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Women in Focus

10 Inspiring Women You May Not Know But Should Be Obsessed With

Dagney Pruner
by Dagney Pruner Published on 10 March 2015

We thought we should give a shout out to women that are incredibly inspiring even though you may not recognise their name. Sure we respect the Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obamas of the world, but it's time to give some unsung heroes their time in the spotlight. So here are 10 women you need to put on your radar ASAP.

1. Becky Hammon

This girl is a total badass because FYI she made history as the first EVER female full-time, salaried coach of the NBA when she became the assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. She is not just the first female assistant coach in NBA history, she also is the first full-time, salaried female coach of any major American male sports league EVER. Respect.

​Becky is 37 and spent 16 years playing ball and setting records in the WNBA until she was injured and had to sit out the rest of her final season. Upon her appointment to assistant coach, President Barack Obama tweeted at her "Congrats to @BeckyHammon...When #WomenSucceed, America succeeds-and we know the @Spurs will, too. -bo." Well, that's extremely casual. She is rumoured to be in line for the NBA's first female coach in coming years and is praised for her immaculate IQ when it comes to basketball. At only 5'6" the former point guard had a great response when reporters continuously asked her if she had a 'locker room incident' with the all-male team: "It's a silly question. I've been coached by men my entire career. I've never had a locker-room incident. Flip the question around. It's like asking a male chef why he's in the kitchen." Suck on that, sexism.

2. Lynsey Addario

Know the name Jennifer Lawrence? How about Steven Spieldberg? Well, this duo will be playing and directing, respectively, the biopic on Lynsey Addario, the award winning photojournalist who wrote her autobiography It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War released this year. Lynsey's work focuses on human rights issues and the role of women in traditional societies covering on the ground conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, as well as the use of sexual violence as a weapon in war in Africa. She was even taken hostage under Qaddafi's reign in Libya while covering the injustices of his regime. She, along with three other journalists were held captive for a week before their release, during which Lynsey testified that she was victim to terrifying death threats and sexual assault. Later that year, Lynsey was strip searched by Israeli military and forced to walk through an X-ray scanner numerous times even though she insisted that she was not carrying weapons and also told the military that she was pregnant.

The New York Times wrote a letter to the Israeli government on her behalf and the Israeli Defense Minister apologised to Lynsey as a result. Needless to say, this woman has serious balls and believes first and foremost in exposing the truth of a conflict no matter how uncomfortable or complicated. She is married to another journalist and they have a son together, Lukas, who has become a source of inspiration for her work. The pioneer stated at the end of her book that "As a war correspondent and a mother, I've learned to live in two different realities.... I choose to live in peace and witness war — to experience the worst in people but to remember the beauty." Hats off to you, Lynsey, we hope to have even a small amount of your courage in our lifetime.

3. Indra Nooyi

PepsiCo just so happens to be the second largest food and beverage business in the whole world by net revenue. It also happens to have a female CEO and chairwoman: Indra Nooyi. Indra was born in India where she got her undergraduate and master's education. After holding managerial positions at consumer goods factories like Johnson & Johnson while in India, she moved to the United States in the 1970's to get her master's degree in management from Yale University. After graduating, she worked her way up the PepsiCo ladder until she was appointed CEO in 2001. How has the company performed since she took over? Funny you ask, she doubled their net profit in her first five years. In addition to her insane career (and salary), she is refreshingly honest about whether women can "have it all." Her answer: they can't. She elaborates "I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all.

​We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions...You have to cope because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt, but the person who hurts the most through this whole thing is your spouse. There’s no question about it.” Although Indra is open about fearing that she is a bad mother for having such a busy career, good for her for being honest about all the sacrifices you have to make to be a full-time CEO and​ a full-time mom. Even though there may not be enough hours in the day to truly feel you have it all, it shouldn't prevent you from trying.

4. Sharon Love

If you paid attention to the news in 2010, then you probably heard of the tragedy at University of Virginia where senior lacrosse player Yeardley Love was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, fellow UVA lacrosse player George Huguely, after he brutally attacked her in her apartment. Sharon Love, Yeardley's mother, had also just lost her husband shortly before Yeardley's murder, but was still able to honor her daughter's legacy by founding the One Love Foundation, named after Yeardley's lacrosse number, #1. The foundation raises money for scholarships for female athletes who exemplify the same attributes that Yeardley did: "service, kindness, humility and sportsmanship." The One Love Foundation has also made great strides in raising awareness and helping to combat relationship and domestic abuse.

​The foundation has set up an app for women to fill out a questionnaire and determine the risk of their relationship turning violent, and their efforts have helped spark systematic reform in how universities and coaching staff deal with players they know have a propensity for violence. Although Huguely is serving a 23 year prison sentence for his crime, it is undeniable that Sharon Love's perseverance and commitment to honoring her daughter's legacy has not only change the face of relationship violence, but probably saved young females' lives.

5. Wendy Davis

If you've never heard of Wendy Davis, you are about to fall in love with the ultimate power mom. Senator Davis grew up in Texas and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School despite having to drop out of her undergraduate education for financial reasons. Quick fun fact, Wendy's first husband, who she married at 18, was named Frank Underwood, we're not even kidding. I digress, she became a Texas Senator who made history in 2013 when she filibustered to block Senate Bill 5, which required doctors performing abortions to have privileges at a nearby hospital, banned abortions after 20 weeks, and have abortion clinics meet the same surgical standards that hospitals need to meet.

​Basically, to greatly restrict the already dwindling access women have to get a safe abortion. The single mom filibustered for 13 hours straight, standing with no bathroom breaks, wearing her hot pink tennis shoes until the bill was shot down. Although the bill was later passed by the Governor, she made a huge statement, rallied hundreds of supporters to the capitol, and brought awareness to the lackluster female reproductive rights in Texas. Wendy Davis went on to lose the gubernatorial race in 2014, but her vocal campaigning for pro-choice, gun control, anti-bullying laws and anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community made her a vocal, yet unpopular candidate. However, being unpopular has never silenced Senator Davis from speaking up for females and the LGBT community, telling lawmakers to either "Get out of the vagina business or go to medical school." Cheers to that, sister.

6. Maci Peterson

A huge reason why the gender gap still exists is that there are sectors of the workforce that have way bigger disparities between male and female employment than others. One of these sectors is STEM, also known as science, technology, engineering and math. Well, Spelman graduate Maci Peterson is not only breaking new ground in this industry with her hot new app, she is one of the first women of color to do so. The 28 year old invented the app On Second Thought which allows you to take back text messages for up to 60 seconds after you send them. It also allows you to select a curfew period after which any texts you "send" get put on pause and can either choose to be sent or deleted the next morning. I don't know about you, but I know A LOT of people that would benefit from this app. Maci said the first round of investment for the app's creation came from fundraising to her friends and family.

​As the app has grown, so has the need for investment which Maci says they are now pitching to institutional and private investors. How did the market and public relations major with limited experience in coding think of this idea? Before a first date with a Christian guy she sent the text "are you in DC or MD?" and thanks to autocorrect she accidentally sent "are you in DC or me?" Classic mixup. Maci's business is paving new way for women of color as she continues to carve out her piece of the male-dominated pie, and she hopes that her story will inspire others stating "If Maci did it, I know I can too."

7. Soledad O'Brien

This fine female is the chairman of her own production company, an award-winning broadcaster and a hardcore philanthropist. So basically, she does it all. Soledad's full name is María de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien, which she was highly recommended to change to Teresa O'Brien upon her entry to the TV industry as she was told it would make her seem more "relatable" to the viewers. Naturally, Soledad refused because she knows her name is totally badass. Soledad is part Australian, part Cuban and part black, her parents had to relocate to Washington D.C. in order to have an interracial marriage. Soledad, and all of her five siblings, ended up attending Harvard University, because that happens all the time? In addition to being a lead broadcaster on MSNBC, HBO and Al-Jazeera, Soledad has led numerous projects for CNN focusing on the struggles of minority populations in the United States as well as covering numerous natural disasters from the front lines.

​Her work in the field has won her numerous Peabody Awards, Emmy Awards, and has been recognized by the National Association of Black Journalists as Journalist of the Year. Morehouse College of Medicine even invented an award in her named, called the "Soledad O'Briend Voice of Freedom Award," which is awarded to students who help spur social change. Her philanthropy work includes expanding educational opportunities for all students and promoting arts education for minorities. She now focuses on her four children with her husband and being chairman of Starfish Media Group. I think we need to change the famous quote "Just remember, you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce" to "Just remember, you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce AND Soledad O'Brien."

8. Lisa Genova

If you have heard of Julianne Moore, you have probably heard of her Academy Award winning performance in the film Still Alice. Although the flick was an award winner, it is actually based on the book of the same title by Lisa Genova. The single mom has a Ph.D. from Harvard in neuroscience and decided after her divorce from her first husband to risk it all and leave her pharma job to write about the disease that was killing her grandmother: Alzheimer's. Self-publishing the novel and selling copies out of her trunk because nobody believed in the book, it went on to become a New York Times Bestseller and led to her three following books that have had bestseller success. She has broken barriers with her willingness to investigate and discuss cognitive disease that affect people all over the world, even when she was told nobody would want to listen.

She's illuminating the struggle of these diseases and raising awareness for Huntington's Chorea, autism, one-side brain neglect and Alzheimer's has brought these debilitating conditions to the forefront, and spared no detail in their ruthlessness from the unique perspective of those suffering from the disease. When asked what she would tell young women who wanted to switch careers despite apprehension from the people closest to her, she said: "This is what I tell people, you’re going to be dead some day. You know this. If this is something you really want to do, go ahead and do it....Give yourself permission to start it now. You will not be here forever... So why not?"

9. Rita Moreno

If you've never heard of West Side Story then you are missing out on some serious Broadway magic. Rita Moreno became the second Puerto Rican to ever win an Academy Award when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film adaptation. But Rita didn't just stop there, she went on to be the only Hispanic performer, and one of the few performers EVER, to win an Oscar, Tony, Emmy AND Grammy. Say what?! That is like the grand slam of Hollywood steroids. I didn't even know that was possible? Rita grew up in Puerto Rico with her mother who had her at the age of 17 and her father who was a farmer. Her mother brought her to the United States at the age of five and she immediately started taking dance classes.

​By age 11, she would start dong Spanish voiceovers for American films, and by the age of 13 she made her Broadway debut. At the age of 13 I think I had JUST figured out how to do laundry and finally got through To Kill A Mockingbird, having a Broadway career was beyond out of the question. Rita's career really took off with her role in West Side Story, although she said even with an Oscar she still faced great hurdles in the industry: "Ha, ha. I showed them. I didn't make another movie for seven years after winning the Oscar.... Before West Side Story, I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles. The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories."

​However, thanks to Rita's perseverance her career ended up being extremely successful. She even found time to date Marlon Brando for eight years and briefly date Elvis Presley, who she famously called a bad hookup. She went on to get married and have a daughter and now has two grandchildren. She continues her legacy of breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood, and at the age of 83 continues to act in sitcoms and on Broadway. If her ability to be the first Hispanic to win an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award), yes there's actually a name for it, doesn't prove she's a pioneer, then I don't know what does.

10. Chan Laiwa

Did you know there are only 19 self-made billionaire females in the world? Did you know that Chan Laiwa is one of the only one to ever make Forbes' richest women in the world list? Every other woman to make the list in 2014 inherited their fortune. Chan Laiwa is the billionaire founder ($6 billion to be exact) of Fuwah International Group, one of Beijing's largest commercial real estate companies. Growing up, she was forced to drop out of high school due to extreme poverty, so she started repairing furniture to make ends meet. She took her talents to Hong Kong where she started buying furniture, repairing it and then selling it in her own store, eventually accumulating enough money to invest in some villas.

​By the 1990's she had relocated back to Beijing and officially founded the Fuwah International Group, which has since developed over 1.5 million squares meters of property. Ironically, Chain Laiwa's prized accomplishment is her Red Sandalwood Museum which has become a cultural landmark for China spanning over 25,000 square meters. Chan Laiwa now leaves the day to day business of her real estate business to her son to focus on the museum and her cultural and philanthropic responsibilities as she is widely considered a cultural diplomat for China. From 2004 to 2005 alone she donated to $64 million to disaster relief. Casual. If this wife and mother of three isn't the perfect example of defying every gender and poverty stereotype, then I don't know what is.

What women inspire you? Tweet at us! @sofeminineUK

This article was written by Dagney Pruner. Follow her on Twitter @dagneyp

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